Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fixing Problems

And now it's time for the monthly Thinking About The Novel Out Loud. Move along, nothing to see here if it ain't your bag. This one's gonna be long.

Steven's been kind enough to look at a couple more chapters, and thankfully I made sure my writing was more polished this time, so he only scratched out a few redundant words.

He's a cluey man and quickly spotted all the logical flaws. Made me realise I simply don't know enough about what I'm doing. But that's how it goes. The first draft is shit (and the second in my case) and you've gotta trawl through the shit to find the nuggets. Of gold. Not poo.

Timed nicely with Steven's crit, a friend grilled me over dinner last night (there's a metaphor for ya). Who is this Danny Hawaii guy? What motivates him? My friend rambled on, enjoying the sound of his own voice, talking about internal conflicts in characters and the like, and it got me thinking.

Who is Danny Hawaii?

There are a few pages of notes filled with snippets that I added along the way, stretching back to the first days, when the novel was more of a Blues Brothers/Demolition Man/Magnum/Crododile Dundee crossover. The background tidbits on Danny are a little contradictory, and looking through my novel, it shows.

I had this idea that Danny hates his name because his father gave it to him, and wants to become a PI to spite his now-dead father in some overly-complex way. At various points Danny reflects on this, but it doesn't really relate to the story. It's tacked on. Call it my equivalent of the unnecessary Vietnam flashback.

The whole father angle was something I threw in when I first started writing because I thought that's what I was supposed to do. But it doesn't suit the character, or the story. The novel is not supposed to be the most serious thing in the world, so the character should be consistent with that. Danny is not someone who thinks things through, so the character arc can show him learning something of the realities of what he's doing.

So who is Danny Hawaii? He's young, lives rent-free in a property that his parents own (they're overseas and aren't really a part of Danny's life). He started a PI course because it was the cheapest on offer and he thought there'd be babes and guns. Once he found out he didn't have to finish the course to get the job, he dropped out. The internal conflict with Danny is between his poorly-researched idea of what a PI should be, and the dull reality of the actual work.

Danny likes his name, because he's the one that got it legally changed. Just the kind of thing a spoiled kid would do. And it sounds a little catchier than Davor Wozniak.

Because Danny's current background is tacked on, it should make it easier to fit in the changes. And because they're more consistent with what Danny actually does in the story, I think it will work better.

Speaking of work, I've got lots to do now.


jamie ford said...

Man, I feel that same angst.

Writing my first book is becoming less about the novel, and more about "what the hell do I really want to say anyway". Because I'm not sure this is it.

If you've ever read any of Neal Stephenson's books (Snow Crash, Diamond Age). They have a certain cyber-punk flavor. But his first book, Zodiac, is just a basic thriller. It's him before he found his voice.

Maybe that's what you're going through.

I know I am.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think ultimately, there are a lot of things that come up in early writing, and we have to learn to see the merit in our own ideas instead of holding on to everything we do.

I highly recommend professional critiques from good sources - I paid Lesley Horton to wade through the first draft of one of mine. She's a mystery writer, and what she did taught me more about writing than anything else probably has, other than just the experience of writing.

Good, impartial, objective critique.

And burning a few brain cells with the old thought process.

Steven said...

You know, I'm thinking that the backstory thing is not all that important. Important, yes, but not everything.

I mean, what does the reader know about any of Chandler's mc's? True, Chandler probably knew more than he told, but also true, he didn't tell a lot.

I think Danny has a lot of attitude. That's what's needed most. He needs to have a range of feelings and attitudes that will create an internal logic for his actions. WHY he has those feelings and attitudes is not as important as which attitudes and feelings he has. I'll tell you why I think this:

You can't predict feelings from events, but you can predict events from feelings. Example, suppose you give your character a backstory where he was beaten as a child. Does he then become a childbeater or does he become a crusader against child abuse? Impossible to predict. Now, suppose I tell you that a character is a crusader against child abuse (his attitude) what will he do when confronted by a clear case of child abuse? Easier to predict that he will report it or step in to prevent it somehow, no?

If this doesn't make sense, blame it on the fact that it's 1am.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Jamie: Have you read Vogler's The Writer's Journey? It's an explanation of the simple mythic structure that exists in at least half the films in Hollywood. It's about the journey of the hero of a story, through the obstacles, to the final goal. It's aptly named, because I think the journey of a writer is a similar one. We have to overcome these obstacles. Umm, that's enough 2 cent philosophy from me tonight.

Sandra: I've thought about professional crits but haven't found a person that 'fits'. Steven's help thus far has helped me learn a lot, and I know I'm not ready for a full crit for at least a couple of months of solid work. But I'll take your advice on board. And your recommendation.

Steven: You, at 1am, make far more sense than me at the peak of the day. I'm going to put some work into identifying and writing down some of Danny's personality traits. I think I need to, because he's still not entirely clear to me.

Wow, a long post makes for long comments. Thanks for the input guys, I'm loving the exchange of ideas here.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, you know, one of the things Lesley did was send me her character outline sheets for some of her work so I could see how to do that...

And she even critiqued my synopsis.

If you want her email when the time comes, you just let me know. I have two of her three books already on my shelves and had better read 3 before I see her this summer...

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I think it's tough to know exactly how much exposition and backstory to put in. It's tempting to do the infodump, get as much across to the readers as humany possible, though most of they don't care about.

The important thing is that you know these details. Most of them may never (and probably should never) make it onto the page, but the things that they inform and create for the character in terms of the story will.

Stuart MacBride said...

"a Blues Brothers/Demolition Man/Magnum/Crododile Dundee crossover"

Yea, I'd read that. Especially if there's a HUGE moustache in it.

I had the same back-story-itis thing going in the first draft of my book. Relationship with father, mother, school, first hamster... but decided it was all a sack of crap and binned the lot. Every time I catch myself back-storying it makes me shudder with embarrassment now.

So I spend most of my time in second drafts un-writing.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Stephen: I think I'm finally getting a little bit of a feel for this particular problem, but of course, it's a hard earned lesson.

Stuart: Hey, thanks for popping over to The Hole. It's good to know that others out there have gone through similar things.

Can't say I ever used the hamster bit, though.